This is my first article I have written so take it easy on me. Back in June when the Big Ten invited my favorite school (and where I am currently enrolled) Nebraska, I was ecstatic to join such a prestigious conference. Especially since the Big 12 seemed to be on its deathbed at that the time. In the few days that followed, sports writers brought up ideas for four 16 team “superconferences”. I think this is a bad idea. 16 teams is way too many teams to have in a conference. If you disagree look at the old Western Athletic Conference which had 16 teams; it didn’t work and the leagues top members bolted. 14, however, is a very good number. It allows for conferences to schedule 9 conference games, which is what most athletic directors want, and play most of the teams in the league. So here are the candidates I think have the best shot at getting a spot in the Big Ten, and the two teams that I think should get the 13th and 14th spot.
Why Missouri makes sense: Well for starters, they are a good geographical fit. Go look at a map of the Big Ten and you will see what I am talking about. They also have two rivalries with Big Ten members Nebraska and Illinois. Their football program is playing better than it has since 1960 when they were cheated out of a national title by Kansas. Gary Pinkel has turned things around in Columbia, this pains me to say, because as a Nebraska fan I hate Missouri.
Why Missouri does not make sense: Before the last three seasons, Missouri was a no-name with no national prominence. One could argue that they still have no national prominence. The last conference title Missouri won was in 1969 and was shared with Nebraska, and the last outright was in 1960. The Tigers have no Heisman winners, no national championships, and only one major trophy winner in Chase Coffman (Mackey Award). This does not sit well with the tradition heavy Big Ten. At least they play Nebraska for the Missouri-Nebraska Bell, which has to count for something at least.
Why Kansas makes sense: They really don’t, Kansas has no history or tradition. Their last outright conference title was in 1930. They had a great year back in 2007, winning the Orange bowl and going 12-1. Since then they have tapered off. They did make an outstanding hire in Turner Gill, who has shown he can turn programs around. If the Big Ten wanted to solidify itself as one of the top conferences in basketball, this would be a great choice.
Why Kansas dose not make sense: Kansas really does not bring anything to the table for the Big Ten, other than basketball which, as we found out, has no effect in conference realignment. I just really like their coach and hope they do not get shafted during another conference realignment.
Why Pittsburgh makes sense: For starters, the University of Pittsburgh is closer to current Big Ten members then Penn State. Having them join the conference would bring back the natural rivalry with Penn State and keep the Nittany Lions from feeling so far away from the rest of the conference. They would bring 9 national titles to the Big Ten, along with a tradition that includes former players such as Dan Marino and Tony Dorsett. Dave Wannstedt struggled in his first three seasons, not making a bowl game, but has turned them around in his last two years going 9-4 and 10-3 in 08 and 09 respectively.
Why Pittsburgh does not make sense: Pittsburgh’s attendance at Heinz field fluctuates a lot based on how they are doing unlike Big Ten brand teams such as Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State. Just three years ago they averaged only 33,000 in a stadium that seats 65,000, though they have rebounded to 53,000 last year. The Big Ten also already has a presence in Eastern Pennsylvania with Penn State. Other than that, this is a very strong choice.
Why Rutgers makes sense: Rutgers did win the first ever football game and shared the first ever national championship. Greg Schiano started off rough, but has shown that he can win at Rutgers, winning four consecutive bowl games. Rutgers also has access to the New York City/Upper New Jersey market, which Jim Delaney has made obvious he wants. Rutgers also averaged about 50,000 per game last year.
Why Rutgers does not make sense: Other than winning the first football game and splitting the first national title, Rutgers has done nothing over 140 years. In that time frame, Rutgers has only gone to 6 bowl games. Also, how much of the New York City/Upper New Jersey market can Rutgers bring, in a very Pro Sports area?
Why Syracuse makes sense: While recently falling on hard times, Syracuse has been a pretty good football school. They have good tradition, winning a national title in 1959 and having well known players such as Ernie Davis, John Mackey, Floyd Little, Jim Brown and Donovan McNabb. With the right coach (Doug Marrone?) they can turn it around. They also allow access to New York recruiting, as well as getting into some of the New York media.
Why Syracuse does not make sense: They have fallen on hard times, missing a bowl game for 5 straight years. Their basketball team is strong, but its football that makes the world go round. If you aren’t relevant in football, you are pretty much stuck. Also same with Rutgers, how much of the New York market can they deliver?
Why Maryland makes sense: The Terrapins have won a national title back in 1953. Ralph “Fridge” Friedgen did exceptionally well his first few seasons, but has tapered off since and went 2-10 last season. The biggest plus for the Terrapins are that they have access to the Baltimore-D.C. area, which is an area that Jim Delaney wants.
Why Maryland does not make sense: Other than the Baltimore-D.C. area, there is really nothing going for the Terrapins. Plus they are apparently happy in the ACC. If Delaney wants a southern team in the ACC, go after Virginia Tech, they are nationally known, but will probably say no.
Notre Dame is obviously the school the Big Ten really wants. I just do not see them giving up their independence, unless the BCS or a new bowl/playoff system forces them to. Until then the Big Ten should look elsewhere.
Why West Virginia makes sense: When the Big Ten first announced they would expand, Nebraska was not mentioned as a candidate. Missouri and Notre Dame were labeled as favorites, however we found out that the Big Ten never had an interest in Missouri as their 12th team, and Notre Dame will likely never join a conference, unless the BCS forces them to. So this is my under the radar surprise pick. West Virginia is a very consistent football team with an excellent stretch under Rich Rod, as well as posting back to back 9 win seasons under Bill Stewart. West Virginia is nationally known, and its an area the Big Ten has no influence in. They also have a pretty good basketball program.
Why West Virginia does not make sense: Largest city in West Virginia: Charleston, population 50,000. West Virginia does not have a major city that the Big Ten wants, nor do they have a very large state population. West Virginia has roughly the same population as Nebraska; but, correct me if I am wrong, I do not believe that West Virginia has a huge national following like Nebraska.
Pittsburgh: They bring great tradition to the Big Ten, plus smashmouth football. They bring a natural rival to Penn State, who have felt like outliers for two decades.
Missouri: The Tigers get s slight edge over the Scarlet Knights because they have a much stronger athletic program. They also fit very well geographically into the Big Ten.
With these two choices, adding them to the Big Ten will be way easier if the Big Ten goes with the East/West split, just put Missouri in the West and Pittsburgh in the East. However, either of these choices could be replaced with Rutgers, it just depends on how much the Big Ten believes Rutgers can deliver the New York City market. Also watch out for West Virginia, like I said earlier, they could very well be a surprise pick. And of course Notre Dame will trump any choice if the Big Ten can get them. My guess is that the other conferences will follow suit in expanding, but that’s for another day.
I want to know what you think about my choices for expansion. Do you agree or disagree? Please let me know.